The second legs of the UEFA Champions League semis see Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid in very similar situations. Both are down a goal, and will play the match at home. Madrid scored an away goal in the first leg, losing 2-1 to Bayern Munich. Barcelona fell 1-0 in their first match with Chelsea.
Despite the deficit, it is not hard to see either Spanish team progressing. The rival squads are two of the world’s best teams, and will be playing in front of their home crowds.
To stop Barca, Chelsea will need another big effort from striker Didier Drogba, whose good work rate was one the keys to the match in the first leg. The Blues defended as well as could be expected against the formidable Catalan squad in that contest, though Barcelona was wasteful in front of goal. Lionel Messi also looked slightly less superhuman than usual in the first leg.
Chelsea, of course, should not bank on these later two things happening again. Rather, to progress to the final, they must again play compact and organized in defense. Attempting to deny Barcelona the possession it always enjoys is a recipe for failure.
In addition, the rule of thumb when playing Barcelona is to play to their weaknesses, utilizing pace and size/physicality. As was shown in the first leg when Chelsea got its goal, Barca can be exposed on the counter attack. Also, the Catalans are not the biggest team, making it essential for opponents to take advantage of set pieces.
Wednesday, Bayern will take on a Madrid team that essentially locked up the Spanish league over the weekend with a win over Barcelona.
As a neutral fan (my club Milan was one of Barcelona’s many victims, bowing out in the quarterfinals), I am somewhat conflicted as to who I want to progress, and have gone back and forth on this.
One on hand, a Clasico final would obviously be epic. No explanation needed.
On the other hand, we have not exactly had a shortage of the matchup in the past year. In addition to their biannual meetings in La Liga, we have seen Clasico‘s in last year’s Champions League semifinals, Copa del Rey final, and Spanish Super Cup. Part of the appeal of international club soccer is that it allows us to see matches between clubs that wouldn’t ordinarily meet.
As a counter-point to that, however, the Champions League final is club soccer’s biggest stage, so why not have what are probably the world’s best teams there? There is also the thought that it would probably give us the most entertaining game of all the possibilities.
Whatever the case, there are three games left in the the 2011-12 Champions League, so let’s just hope for some good games (unless, of course you are not like me, and still have a dog left in the fight. In that case, good luck!).